The Beanstalk


by David N. Townsend


January 12, 1998
8:00 PM

Pet Peeves

(This technically belongs in ComView, but I'm trying to maintain a semblance of dignity there.)

Today, my Number One pet peeve. This is an entirely pointless rant, that all of 9 people elsewhere in the world might possible sympathize with (oops, dangling participle, pet peeve #17). But I'm going to get it off my chest anyway.

You know how it is when something gets under your skin and you just can't avoid moaning and whining about it? (In fact, that's probably one of your pet peeves, when other people do that.) Well, anyway, here I go once and for all, and maybe I can make the world just a little better place for my efforts:

You see, I work in the phone business. Consulting, actually (plug). So I may seem a tad obsessive on certain technical matters involving the field. This particular hangup (sorry) involves dial tones.

The next time you're talking to someone on the phone, when you're ready to hang up, ask the other person to hang up first. You stay on the line for a few seconds after the "click".

What do you hear? Do you know what you hear? I'll tell you what you hear:


Repeat after me: When someone hangs up on you, there is a click, and then you hear NOTHING!

Go ahead, hang on the line for 10, 15 seconds . . . still nothing, huh? No, um, dial tone yet? That's right!

Now, have you ever noticed what happens in virtually every damn movie and TV show on the planet, when someone hangs up on someone else? There's a click, immediately followed by a dial tone!

Then, of course, the moron holding the phone, hearing the dial tone, has to yell "Hello? Hello?" three or four times before accepting the fact that the kidnapper or the bomb threatener or the ex-girlfriend has, in fact, hung up. This is annoying enough, as it portrays a nation of telephone sound illiterates, who don't comprehend that a dial tone means that you're not connected to anybody, and saying "Hello!" loudly will not somehow penetrate this invisible shield and reach the ears of the person with whom you were previously talking. (Correct participle usage there)

But never mind that. My beef is with the dial tone itself. Go ahead, do the experiment. See? When they hang up on you, there's no dial tone! Try it different ways: ask them to slam down the receiver, to gently press (split infinitive, #33) the switch hook, to rip the cord out of the wall: NO FREAKING DIAL TONE!!

So, who the hell in Hollywood issued a mandatory decree that every time someone's phone is disconnected (passive voice, #48), the sound effects people are obligated (another passive)(repetitive annoying tangential parenthetical clauses, #60) to insert an inappropriate dial tone sound? I mean, wouldn't the lack of any sound make so much more sense? At least the jerk yelling "Hello?" wouldn't come across as quite such an idiot, since the silence might mean that they didn't really hang up! But NOOO, the 4th Commandment of mindless drama requires a stupid dial tone the instant the line is cut off.

I saw a movie the other night where a guy was talking on a cellular phone, and when the other guy hung up, there was that inevitable, immediate dial tone. "Hello? Hello?"

CELL PHONES DON'T HAVE DIAL TONES! PERIOD! EVER! Not when you dial, not when you hang up, not when an international terrorist hangs up!

Listen, we see them both on the phone, back and forth, we see the bad guy hang up, we hear the click . . . we don't need the dial tone to enhance our understanding or enjoyment of the scene . . .


By the way, don't get me started on cellular phones in movies. They use them on airplanes, in helicopters, in underground tunnels. They use them for days on end without ever re-charging a battery. They use them in remote forests and on mountaintops and on fast-moving trains, and the signal is always as clear as calling next door. They can dial in to remote controls in hidden bunkers while falling over a cliff, and deactivate a nuclear weapon 3 seconds before detonation with a simple push of a button, but I can't retrieve my voice mail from the gas station downtown.

It's all a scam, I suppose, financed by the cellular industry, to convince people that the technology is so perfect and flawless. The fact that your and my cellular phones fade out and die and crackle like Rice Crispies is just one more reason why we're not as cool as James Bond or Dana Scully.

Maybe the same thing goes for the dial tones. We're supposed to think that our phones are defective when we don't hear a dial tone after someone hangs up (so we sit there like morons, saying "Hello?"). This causes us to throw away our telephone, call the phone company for expensive repairs, and spend untold pennies calling friends and asking them to hang up on us "as an experiment".

Not to mention the costly Internet access time you're wasting reading about the whole stupid issue.

(Now, if you're expecting me to include a cheaply ironic final Pet Peeve to close out this column, you won't get it. Cheap irony is, in fact, another of my pet peeves . . .

. . .and so is disingenuous hypocrisy in the name of ambiguous humor. . . .

. . .and overuse of multisyllable words . . .

. . .and false self-criticism . . .


1998 David N. Townsend

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